Developers unhappy over Oracle Android suit

Oracle’s lawsuit against Google over the Android mobile platform has upset some developers, even though the ultimate effect of the litigation remains to be seen.

“The group is very, very unhappy,” with the lawsuit, says David Cao, an organizer of the Silicon Valley Android Developers group and a vice president at BeyondSoft Consulting. Oracle, he says, is alienating the open source community. But he believes “Android will prevail.”

A leader in the Linux space echoed similar sentiments. “Oracle has significantly undermined its relationship with the open source and developer community,” says Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu Linux distributor Canonical. “That may or may not have an immediate impact on its bottom line, but it’s going to present real challenges for the pace of adoption of key Oracle technologies like Java and MySQL, which have traditionally been led from the bottom up. Developers have been the drivers of adoption of open source platforms, and they will avoid platforms that look like patent traps.”

Oracle filed a lawsuit against Google last week alleging that the Android mobile OS violates patents pertaining to the Java technology Oracle acquired when it bought Sun Microsystems early this year. Now, speculation runs rampant about the lawsuit’s possible impacts, if any, on Java, open source, software patents, and even to rival platforms, such as Microsoft’s neophyte Windows Phone 7. Android competitors, including Microsoft, might actually benefit from the suit, says IDC analyst Al Hilwa.

Android developers stick up for Google

Developers thus far are sticking by Android, says Cao, who described himself as a longtime Java developer before beginning work in Android in 2008. “I haven’t seen anybody move away from Android development because of this lawsuit,” he notes.

“I strongly believe Android has great potential,” says Cao. He lauds Android for being open and powerful. Android is superior to the officially sanctioned Java Micro Edition for mobile development, and “Google actually helped the Java community at large in mobile development,” he says.

However, Hilwa says that the suit could drive away devicemakers and developers, especially big ones like Motorola that base key products on Android. “Lawsuits like this could put the kibosh on Android adoption,” he says. That why Hilwa anticipates some kind of settlement, so Google can reassure its partners.

Small chance of direct threat outside Android — but a chilling effect could result

Oracle’s suit against Google boils down to a claim that Google did not license the Java technology. In its defense, Google says it didn’t actually use Java but instead reverse-engineered it. Oracle and Sun before it have offered the open source version of Java via the GPL (Gnu General Public License). The commercially licensed version also has been available. Google declined to say whether it has licensed either the GPL or commercial version of Java in Android.

The focus on licensing likely means few other Java users are in Oracle’s sight. IDC’s Hilwa says that organizations like IBM and Red Hat’s JBoss group are not impacted by the lawsuit because they are Oracle licensees. “Almost everybody who uses Java licenses Java. Sony licenses Java for Blu-ray,” he adds. “Really, nobody should be concerned about this unless they have a parallel implementation of Java that is not licensed and is making money.”

Hilwa says the issue is preventing Java fragmentation, such as through the developments of near-clones like Android. “It’s a standard [intellectual property] protection lawsuit and protection of the value of Java from fragmentation,” he says. Java’s premise is write once, run anywhere, Hilwa noted. Having multiple, unlicensed implementations like Android could undermine Java’s value proposition, he says.

“Clearly, Oracle is a strong believer in software patents. And if they can use patents as a lever for revenue generation, they will,” says RedMonk analyst Michael Cote.

Most likely, Oracle is looking for a financially or strategically favorable settlement, Cote says. “I think Oracle is trying to clean up the loosey-goosey [intellectual property] enforcement around Java and try to build revenue around it. Sun wasn’t always the best at making money off Java — compared to BEA, IBM, Oracle, and so on — and Oracle must be looking for some more direct revenue for the platform and language. Being ‘free,’ however, is a massive part of what makes Java attractive versus, say, .Net.”

But there’s a danger to Oracle’s strategy, Cote says: “The troubling aspect is how other companies in the Java community feel about this. Other licensees were already a bit freaked out about Oracle taking over, and I’m sure this kind of thing makes them want to switch from relying on Java to some degree.”

Companies with vested interest in Java or Android, including IBM, Motorola, and Red Hat, declined to comment on the matter.

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